When Your Mood Changes Daily in Lockdown
I always thought I was emotionally well-balanced. Covid19 has shown me otherwise.
My mood seems to change daily. One day I’m cool, happy and getting on with what I need to do, the next day I’m irritable, surly and almost supremely despondent.
Am I incapable of just sitting at home and maintaining an emotional balance?
So many people throughout history have been through a million times worse than me; I’m privileged to have a roof over my head, food in my belly, a laptop & internet connection and live in a country without war.
Hell, I’m luckier than half the planet currently, but somehow I can’t suck it up for long enough for my mood not to swing high to low, and then right back again, like a yo-yo.
Seriously, what gives?
It might not just be me. Everyone I’ve spoken to is going through some kind of daily emotional lucky-dip.
It’s like the ‘shuffle’ button is pressed when your brain’s deciding how you’re going to feel that day. “Well yesterday wasn’t bad, so how about a bit of anger for no reason at all today.”
Keep things fresh, you know?
It’s all to do with the human psyche. The funny thing is, I already know why my mood yo-yo’s, but I know it logically, not emotionally.
Try explaining logic to your emotions and then watch your feelings steamroll over your rationale. Like when you break up with someone, you know you shouldn’t message them because it’ll drag you right back into it, but your logic is like a tiny wooden boat against the 100ft tidal wave of your emotions — the boat’s got no chance.
It’s because of your fight or flight response — on perceiving danger our sympathetic nervous systems (SNS) kick in and tell us either to fight or run.
The problem with covid is you can’t really fight it — it’s not a visible danger, you can’t really run from it either because it’s potentially present everywhere.
Whether you fight or flee the physical response is the same. Your body pumps adrenaline into your blood for quick muscle power, and if the danger needs extended attention your brain also starts pumping cortisol through your veins.
Cortisol is the stress hormone. It gives you the prolonged alertness you need to fight an enemy or flee a danger but it also cuts off your access to your rational mind. It literally prevents you from thinking straight. You can’t relax, it prevents your brain from learning as efficiently as usual and even dials down the effectiveness of your immune system.
It does this because we don’t need to think, learn or even have active immune systems in moments of imminent danger, like a tiger chasing you for lunch or a rock rolling towards you. It reroutes energy and focus from other bodily systems onto the imminent danger.
The fight or flight response evolved to react to short and split second dangers, not prolonged stressors that can last weeks, months or even years in the modern world.
All that cortisol swimming around in your blood has a marked effect on your well being. It prevents you from truly being able to relax, effectively learning and from even being able to think straight. It also makes you more vulnerable to disease and infection because it kicks down your immunity.
Because covid can’t be quickly fought or escaped from, our SNS’s are always mildly engaged in the background, pumping small amounts of cortisol into our blood. We can’t fight or flee, so our protection systems just kinda freeze.
Or at least, that’s what mine is doing, given what I know.
It’s not just that though. We humans have a very strong need to have something to look forward to.
What we’re doing that day, what social interactions we have planned for the coming week, what large things we need to get done in future. Even looking forward to when the next big life event will likely be, like starting a new school, job, moving or even getting married or having kids.
We need to look forward because we’re creatures of planning. We crave some form of stability, and we need at least a rough idea of what we’re doing for the foreseeable future to create a sense of stability.
Covid takes all of this away. The world is on pause. No-one can plan anything because no-one knows what’s going to happen. Our innate defence systems are pretty confused right now, they don’t know how to respond to a persistent, invisible danger.
Or mine is, at least, maybe that’s why my mood swings high to low.
Best thing seems to be trying to use the time to learn/do something you’ve been putting off for a while. I’m learning organic chemistry (cos I’m a dork).
And also, much more importantly, to make sure you get enough variety in your day or your week. Speak to different people, call numbers you haven’t called in a while, make sure you move around, exercise in different places, do logical and creative things to use different parts of your brain (not at the same time).
The fact everyday is the same is one of the things that can really get to you. Days just seem to blend in to each other, you start to forget where one ended and the other began, it was just the same shit over and over again.
Variety is the spice of life. It certainly seems to help me balance my mood, that and some mild form of routine — a different one for different days. I’m in a good mood now anyway, probably because I’ve got my thoughts out by writing this.
I’m gonna go and do something different now and calm my sympathetic nervous system down. Give today a bit of variety so I can differentiate it from the rest.